Remembering the Month in Sports That Wasn't
When Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11th, the sporting world came to an eerie stop
Minutes before the Thunder and Jazz were set to tip-off on March 11 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, a conversation among NBA officials ended with both teams and the referee crew abruptly heading back to the locker rooms from which they had just emerged.
As rumors circulated throughout the stands — and the city, the country, the entire sporting world — OKC’s PA announcer jumped on the horn to inform fans that the game had been postponed due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
Later that night, the NBA declared that its entire season would be postponed until further notice due to the unforeseen circumstance in question: Jazz forward Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Following the NBA’s suspension of play that Wednesday night, the other major sports followed suit, with almost every future event effectively wiped off the calendar by the end of the following mid-March weekend.
This weekend marks one calendar month since that happened. Whether we’ve liked it or not, the world has gone on without a single major American sport being played in the interim.
While that’s hardly been the worst thing about the last month, the lack of games has left a glaring hole in the lives of many fans and the wallets of players, owners, broadcasters, arena vendors, ushers, team employees, bookies, bettors and others who make a living off sports.
Just think: Thanks to COVID-19, we’ve missed out on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the East-leading Bucks playing three straight games with major playoff ramifications against their chief conference rivals, the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors. And just this week, we missed LeBron and the Lakers taking on the crosstown-rival Clippers for the fourth and final time this season (the Clippers won the first two, the Lakers the third).
Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals taking on Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on March 22? Didn’t happen. The Bruins going to St. Louis to take on the team to which they lost the Stanley Cup on the second day of April? Nope.
Last weekend would have seen the traditional cutting down of the nets in Atlanta and New Orleans as two new NCAA basketball champions were crowned; instead, we’ve been left with empty brackets and presumably was less office camaraderie (or strife, depending on how seriously you take it) for the first time in the entire history of March Madness.
Thanks to the pandemic, we haven’t gotten to see how the Astros were treated by opposing fans during road games against the A’s, Angels and Athletics, and whether Houston batters would have to avoid wayward pitches as if they were playing dodgeball at the plate. Nor did we get to find out if New York’s $324-million man Gerrit Cole is worth the not-so-small fortune the Yankees spent on him.
The 2020 Masters, where Tiger Woods’s would’ve had a chance to defend his long-awaited 15th major title, should be happening right now. But they aren’t. And all of us, especially Jim Nantz and the pimento cheese sandwich vendors, are at least a little worse off for it.
Though it isn’t the same, the empty sporting calendar has been at least partially filled by other sports-related news and entertainment. We’ve had dumb trades and surprising releases in NFL free agency. We’ve had Tom Brady going on Howard Stern and a virtual car race that led to NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace losing a real-life sponsorship.
And we’ve even gotten Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara revealing he wouldn’t want to be quarantined with teammate Tuukka Rask because of the goaltender’s hellacious farts (which teammate David Pastrnak has confirmed).
As great and age-appropriate as they are, fart jokes can’t replace the hole the loss of pro sports has left behind. But maybe they don’t have to, because, as we saw just two decades ago, American sports have a knack for coming through when we need them most.
Though Major League Baseball canceled all its games immediately following the attacks of 9/11, MLB leadership decided to resume play the following Saturday having realized the game’s unifying power and the need for people to have something else to focus on.
It was a strange end to the baseball season (and a weird start for football, including the insertion of a benchwarmer named Brady under center for the Patriots), but there was nothing strange about the symbolic strike former President George W. Bush threw to open the first game of the World Series at Yankee Stadium after 9/11.
If we can come back from that, we can come back from this.
To paraphrase what Queen Elizabeth eloquently told the people of Britain: We will be with our teams again. We will be with our fellow fans again. We will cheer again.
There might be six feet between us when it happens, but the sporting world — and we, the people who adore it — will prevail.
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